The Practice of Silence
“It’s really quiet around here,” I said by way of accusation. Noon at the yoga studio, and the hot room was empty but for the teacher, stretching. What had happened to all of the midday noise, I wanted to know. Where were all of the busy people rushing in from work to squeeze in a class on their lunch hour? I missed the sound of shuffle, the squeezing past of many bodies, the muted conversations, punctuated by hush-induced laughter.
If I were a seasoned yogi, I might have welcomed the noon silence. But I really fall into the category of enthusiastic student—someone who’s done yoga at different points in life, but who developed a long-term pretty-much daily practice only two years ago. (It was also the summer I turned 50, found out I was going to be a grandmother, and had my first hot flash.)
The fact that I was so very aware of the absence of noise, I thought, was probably a good indication of what I’d been feeding my brain for the past 24, 48, 72 (or so) hours.
In a recent piece on noise, New York Magazine blogger Melissa Dahl cites research that says just as prolonged exposure to noise is bad for your health, so is prolonged exposure to silence good for your health.
And it makes sense that it would be healthy, and it explains why you leave yin yoga classes feeling like you’ve had a massage (it’s yoga for the spine and joints, tendons and connective issue that requires relaxing your muscles and long holds to stretch). Yin, of course, is the opposite of Yang (jogging, weight lifting, flow yoga, aerobics). It’s about letting go of your resistance and surrendering to your particular edge.
Much of the time, teachers of this all-levels class talk, providing food for thought—philosophy, energy channels, health benefits, and so on to distract your mind during the 3-minute to 5-minute holds of each pose.
That wasn’t the case yesterday, however, when the teacher, Ashley Marrone at Decatur Hot Yoga, announced we were going to have an “advanced” class. She clarified—she did not mean it was going to be physically advanced. No, much harder than that. It was going to be mentally advanced class, a silent class. When was the last time you sat in silence for an hour? Or even 5 minutes?
In Yin, the practice in a silent class is the soft focus of your mind on your natural breath. As your mind strays to work and grocery lists, or back to when you wrecked your first tricycle, or what’s happening this evening, or tomorrow, or what will be happening in your old age, or how this will all end (one thought attracts similar thoughts, and they gain momentum)—as your mind goes where it goes, your task is to bring back a soft focus on your natural breath.
When you are able to let go of the thoughts and come back to the present moment, back to your breath making its way through your body with no effort on your part, all of the extraneous stuff sort of melts away.
After class, I thanked the teacher. It truly was an advanced class, humbling and inspiring at the same time. I managed to stay focused on my breath off and on, and in so doing got a glimpse of the point of the whole exercise: the fewer thoughts you have to take you outside the present moment, the less uncomfortable and the more okay you become being exactly where you are.